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A Consultant Development Program Answers the Call for Qualified HIT Professionals

September 23, 2014
by Rajiv Leventhal
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More than 25 percent in savings realized by healthcare organizations for IT initiatives leveraging Stoltenberg consultants
Shane Pilcher

With the growing number of responsibilities that are put on healthcare organization’s plates, the demand for qualified health IT workers is as high as it’s ever been—a notion confirmed by a recent survey from the Chicago-based analytics arm of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) which found that 84 percent of organizations hired at least one staff member in 2014.

What’s more, last year's HIMSS Workforce Survey indicated that 31 percent of healthcare organizations had to place IT initiatives on hold due to staffing shortages, while 43 percent cited the lack of a qualified talent pool as a challenge to appropriately meeting their staffing needs. Three of four respondents in this survey said they plan to hire additional staff in the coming year.

To help patient care organizations meet these demands, the Pittsburgh, Pa.-based Stoltenberg Consulting launched the Consultant Development Program nearly four years ago, with the goal to provide hospitals with cost-effective outsourced staff resources that simultaneously boost the talent level of the healthcare IT job market. Stoltenberg, which has been in the health IT industry for approximately 20 years, works with more than 200 clients ranging from large academic medical centers and specialty hospitals, to community hospitals and physician practices. The development program has four major categories: application training, project management principles, hospital workflows, and industry standards and principles.

According to Stoltenberg executives, to date, hospitals that have leveraged the programs “Consultant I” graduates have seen more than 25 percent increase in cost savings on IT implementation projects, with the value and contributions of the consultants adding to an even greater overall ROI. Overall, the Consultant I’s spent more than 2,000 hours in training for projects, nearly 9,000 hours on projects and over 15,000 hours serving the help desk service line from Stoltenberg, over the course of the program, which can cost trainees up to $70,000 per year. The consulting firm’s vice president, Shane Pilcher, recently dove deeper into the nuances of the program with Healthcare Informatics Associate Editor Rajiv Leventhal. Below are excerpts of that interview.

 Why did Stoltenberg decide to launch its development program?

One thing we have always found important is that we wanted to give back to the health IT community. We have long noticed the lack of resources and lack of health IT professionals, and of course when meaningful use came in, that already small pool of resources evaporated. The organizations that had good resources held onto them, and there just weren’t enough to go around. So we felt the need to develop that talent and be able to provide to the industry. Our program that focused on new college graduates; we want to take our 20 years of experience and start training them and transferring that knowledge to them so it could decrease that learning curve and get them out in the industry faster to help with all of the issues that are going on.

How are the program’s students selected?

We have a very rigorous selection process, and we think that’s what separates us from other programs. Part of that is working with colleges to make sure that while they’re going to college, they’re getting the skills and education that we need to build upon. Also, we have partnered with a few universities that we are familiar with and have confidence in their education programs. And in some cases were even able to influence some of that training. We believe in having some exposure to a healthcare-related field, but also having a business foundation—we have seen that combination work best. The candidates we have pulled into our program have been amazing.

What makes your consultants’ skill set so unique?

It starts with our selection process, as I mentioned. You need to make sure they have somewhat of a healthcare foundation from an education perspective as well as an understanding of business fundamentals. That gives us a strong foundation to build on. We have a proprietary internal development program where we take our senior consultants and all their combined years of experience to create training programs. This allows our Consultant 1’s to get the necessary information, best practices and knowledge, as well as experience one-on-one mentoring with our senior consultants in the field.

Another area they spend a lot of time on in the first six months is at the Help Desk.  That service line provides Tier 1 and optional Tier 2 and Tier 3 support for clients. It’s a very safe place for them to get exposed to healthcare IT, and understand the interactions between users and health IT systems, as well as troubleshooting. It provides consultants a foundation so when they walk onto that first project, they have a comfort level.